Thursday, April 28, 2016

Mechanism takes command

Bertolini Meli notes that "Whereas Malpighi relied repeatedly on the notion of fermentation to bridge the gap between his anatomical findings and interpretive program, Borelli tried --or pretended-- to dispense with chymical notions and preferred purely mechanical ones, Fermentation and other chymical notions were at least in principle acceptable to Borelli and his colleagues because they were ultimately reducible to the motions, separations, and combinations of particles. In many cases,however, they retained a dubious status not entirely dissimilar from that of the Aristotelian notions the mechanists wished to displace." ... After van Helmont, it was relatively common to refer to fermentation, especially in the mechanical sense favored by Descartes and willis. Borelli's concern was with the uncontrolled proliferation of cymical explanations introduced as ad hoc remedies to the problems of mechanical interpretations. ...The dispute over fermentation was not simply a private affair between Borelli and Malpighi, but had a broader European import. ... Walter Charleton, William Cole, Archibald Pitcairn, and William Cockburn across the channel attacked the notion of fermentation in different contexts. " [Bertolini Meli, loc 5310ff] Here Bertolini Meli refers to Ted Brown's article on the College of Physicians [1970]. Brown insists that Willis was an iatromechanist, but divides the development of iatromechanism into two phases. The first phase was Willisian and gave importance to fermentation. In the second, that Brown calls the eclectic phase, starting in the 1680s, was critical of Willis's notion of fermentation and adhered to the more pruely mechanistic physiology of Borel.   Brown notes that: in 1679 Walter Charleton inclueded as one of his lectures a disquisition of "Fevers." Charleton's discourse aimed to describe the behavior of the animal 'engine." It began with a definition of fever as a corpuscular fermentation of the blood produced by impurities and partly by the subtle, vital spirits in mechanical conflict with these impurities; it continued with an explanation of febrile phenomena by means of which this hypothesis ... [brown, 1970, 23-4]  In 1683 Walter Charleton delivered three new lectures. In these he made Borelli, not Willis, the main spokesman on the 'animal oeconomy,' and very promnently in his first lecture he stopped specifically to ridicule the notion of fermentatiove agitations in smoothly (and mathematically") circulating blood. Two years later Charleton elaborated his critique of Willis' iatromechanical ideas in a treatise on physiology of menstrual flux.[brown, 1970, 24-5]" Notwithstanding Brown's  good reasons for calling Willis an iatromechanist, what seems to matter is that it was in 1683 under the influence of Borelli that the notion of fermentation was read out of the neuteric explanations of physiological phenomena. Was this reading out of the last vestiges of Aristotelian animism that had still been Willisian physiology. Is this the moment when mechanism truely took command?
 

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